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World Leprosy Day: 29th of January - What Do You Really Know About Leprosy?


Published: 22 January 2017

Cover image for article: World Leprosy Day: 29th of January - What Do You Really Know About Leprosy?

World Leprosy Day is on the last Sunday of every January – this year being the 29th (Effect Hope 2016). Take some time to consider how much you really know about the condition.

Because leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease, is rare in Australia (Victoria State Government 2015), you might not know much more about it than what you have seen in media portrayals.

According to South Australian Health (2012), most Australians affected by leprosy are ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from northern Australia and migrants from areas where the disease is more common’.

World Leprosy Day

Did you know that for more than 60 years, World Leprosy Day has taken place on the last Sunday of January, thanks to the French humanitarian, Raoul Folleraeu (Effect Hope 2016)?

Folleraeu aimed to use this day of awareness to catalyse equal care and respect for people with leprosy (Effect Hope 2016). He hoped it could prevent stigmatisation and improve healthcare regarding leprosy, globally.

You may find it interesting that leprosy affects cooler body tissue (e.g. testes, superficial nerves, and the eyes) and it progresses slowly (Victoria State Government 2016) as the bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae), multiplies (WHO 2016).

Leprosy is a chronic infection that is most common in the tropics and subtropics, and can be cured with multi-medicine therapy (Better Health Channel 2016) over 6-24 months, subject to the type of leprosy (SA Health 2012).

WebMD (2015) reports that 16 million people with leprosy have been cured over the last 20 years or so, and the World Health Organization offers free leprosy treatment.

Early treatment and surgery can help to improve deformities and disabilities (SA Health 2012). Treatment is needed to avoid permanent damage such as:

  • Blindness
  • Glaucoma
  • Face swelling and lumps
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Male infertility
  • Kidney failure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nerve damage to arms, legs and feet

(WebMD 2012)


  • Bodily lumps that are symmetrical
  • Eye bleeding and inflammation
  • Crusting of the nasal lining that generates breathing troubles
  • Permanent disfiguring and disability can occur, particularly in the hands, feet and face
  • Loss of feeling resulting from nerve thickening, notably in the hands, feet and face

(SA Health 2012)

How Does Leprosy Spread?

Contrary to what you may have thought, leprosy is not actually highly contagious (Better Health Channel 2016) and only infects humans (SA Health 2012).

SA Health (2012) reports that transmission occurs from the infected nasal lining of the person with leprosy, to another human’s skin or respiratory tract. Thereby, close contact with infected people increases chances of transmission (Better Health Channel 2016), but not many of the close contacts develop leprosy (SA Health 2012).

In episodes found in new borns and young children it is believed that leprosy passes via the placenta or respiratory droplets (Better Health Channel 2016).

How Long is the Incubation Period?

The WHO states leprosy’s incubation period can take five years, however it may take up to as many as twenty years for symptoms of leprosy to show.

Necessary Action for Nurses

  • Remove stigma to increase self-reporting and treatment of leprosy
  • Inclusion of all people – no discrimination
  • Continued human and financial resources for leprosy treatment
  • Prevent complications of leprosy
  • Prevent spread of leprosy

(WHO 2016)

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  1. Better Health Channel 2016, Leprosy, Victoria State Government, viewed 2 October 2016,
  2. Effect Hope 2016, World Leprosy Day, Effect: Hope, viewed 2 October 2016,
  3. Health.Vic 2015, Leprosy (Hansen’s disease), Victoria State Government, viewed 2 October 2016,
  4. SA Health 2012, Leprosy (Hansen’s disease) – including symptoms, treatment and prevention, Government of South Australia, viewed 2 October 2016,…prevention
  5. WebMD 2015, Leprosy Overview, viewed 2 October 2016,
  6. World Health Organization 2016, Leprosy, WHO, viewed 2 October 2016,



Portrait of Madeline Gilkes
Madeline Gilkes

Madeline Gilkes focused the research project for her master's of healthcare leadership on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. Madeline is also a qualified weight management practitioner and Registered Nurse. Her vision is to prevent lifestyle diseases, obesogenic environments, dementia, and metabolic syndrome. She has a master of healthcare leadership, a graduate certificate in aged care, and a bachelor of nursing. Madeline works as an academic and has spent the past years in the role of clinical facilitator and clinical nurse specialist (gerontology & education). She is due to complete her Graduate Certificate in Adult and Vocational Education at CSU before November 2018. See Educator Profile

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